Norwin stuns defending champion Hempfield in Class 6A softball semifinals

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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | 10:43 PM


To Norwin, the signs were there.

Two ladybugs landed on a player’s shoulder.

When the team arrived at Gateway, players found a heads-up penny at the entrance and picked it up.

And don’t forget about the four-leaf clover coach Brian Mesich had in his pocket the whole game.

“This had nothing to do with luck,” Mesich said after the biggest win of his coaching career.

A true underdog in these WPIAL softball playoffs, Norwin put the mighty Hempfield Spartans on upset alert Wednesday before doing the unthinkable and finishing off a stunner, a 5-2 victory over the top-seeded defending WPIAL champions in the 6A semifinals in Monroeville.

No. 5 seed Norwin came in with a 9-10 record.

“Hey, we’re a .500 team now,” Mesich said, shaking his head. The Knights snapped Hempfield’s 14-game winning streak and advanced to the finals for the first time.

Instead of a Hempfield-Seneca Valley rematch, it will be Norwin (10-10) and No. 2 Seneca Valley (20-1) in the title game Wednesday at Cal (Pa.)’s Lilley Field.

Who saw that coming?

“Well, some of us did,” Mesich said.

Eight-time WPIAL champion Hempfield begrudgingly slams on the breaks with no PIAA postseason ahead, its season over at 18-2. Only the WPIAL champion goes to states.

“I’m sad for our girls,” Hempfield coach Tina Madison said. “(Norwin) came out on fire. We didn’t look past them. It’s hard to beat a team three times. Norwin played an outstanding game.”

Fearlessly, senior pitcher Brookelyn Kotch tamed the top-ranked team in the state, limiting the Spartans, who had beaten Norwin in back-to-back postseasons, including last year in the semifinals at the same site, 8-5.

She allowed six hits, struck our four and let her defense catch more than a dozen popups.

“It’s crazy,” Kotch said about a sudden playoff run that even a few players said they hadn’t seen coming. “We came in with the mindset that we need to play as a team, not as individuals. I hit my spots today. We know Hempfield is a good hitting team. I trusted my defense.”

And that included freshman Diem Wardzinski, who caught seven of Hempfield’s 13 flyouts.

“Diem works harder than any freshman I have seen in my time here,” Norwin senior shortstop Bailey Snowberger said.

Norwin worked on being more patient against Hempfield junior ace Riley Miller, who had their number.

“We worked on timing up Riley better,” Kotch said. “We haven’t gotten on base with her.”

Consider: Against Hempfield this season, players other than Snowberger were a combined 1 for 40 in two losses (by scores of 6-0 and 9-1).

In this game, the Knights got a hit from seven players, including a tone-setting, two-run home run from Josey Michalski in the first inning.

Norwin was coming off a 3-1 win over Pine-Richland in the quarterfinals at Gateway.

“I love this field,” Snowberger said.

Hempfield was off for 13 days with a bye.

Norwin looked fresh and charged up.

“We’ve been building to this,” Mesich said. “Getting better and better. You want to be playing your best by the playoffs and we are. We made some adjustments and more mental preparation.

“This is big. This is meaningful.”

It was 3-0 in the fourth after an RBI double by Kotch.

Senior Maggie Howard hit a solo homer for Hempfield in the bottom of the inning, and a throwing error on a stolen-base attempt slipped past Snowberger and freshman center fielder Madelyn Kugler and ran to the fence, allowing another run to cross to cut it to 3-2.

Howard was 3 for 3 with a double.

But Norwin didn’t feel the heat for long. It added two runs in the fifth. With the bases loaded after an intentional walk to Michalski, junior Rachel Minteer lofted a light single to right for an RBI, then another error following a fielder’s choice made it 5-2. Minteer went 3 for 4 with three singles.

“We kept the pedal down,” Mesich said. “Answering their two with our two was huge.”

Hempfield left six runners on base, including two in the sixth and seventh innings.

A number of hard-hit balls to right that began to drift toward the corner were tracked down by Wardzinski.

“We didn’t want to pop up like that,” Madison said. “Pine-Richland did that against them, too. (Wardzinski) made some plays that changed the game.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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